President Clinton's choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency, retired Air Force Gen. Michael P.C. Carns, has withdrawn his nomination because of circumstances surrounding his sponsorship of a Philippine immigrant, Administration officials said Friday.
Carns, a 57-year-old former fighter pilot, decided to take himself out of consideration for the intelligence post to spare family members and the Administration the embarrassment of another controversial, and possibly doomed, confirmation hearing, a White House official said.
Clinton is expected to nominate Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch, the Pentagon's second-ranking civilian official, to fill the CIA directorship left vacant by the resignation of R. James Woolsey in December.
A White House official who requested anonymity confirmed Carns' withdrawal but would not elaborate on the nature of the problem that caused it, saying only that it was a "personal matter." The White House is expected to issue a formal explanation today.
But a source familiar with the situation said that Carns decided to take himself out of consideration after it became clear that his sponsorship of the Philippine immigrant might have violated federal immigration policy and had the potential to derail his nomination.
The Filipino was described as a young man related to a domestic servant who worked for the Carns family while the general served as commander of Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines during the 1980s. The man later accompanied the family to the United States under a special program that allows Americans living abroad to bring foreign nationals back to this country as domestic employees, but only if certain conditions are met. The FBI apparently determined that Carns had not satisfied those conditions.
A White House official said that Clinton had known "generally" about the situation when he announced Carns' nomination on Feb. 8. But the FBI background investigation determined that the problem was more serious than initially believed, convincing some officials that Carns was unlikely to survive Senate confirmation hearings scheduled to begin within the next few weeks.
"The President is heartbroken that someone of Carns' background and experience could not serve in this position," said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. "But the general felt that he should withdraw his name to save his family and his President from a protracted discussion of his nomination."
Carns, a 35-year Air Force veteran and Harvard Business School graduate, was relatively unknown in political circles when Clinton chose him to head the CIA. The agency has been rocked in recent months by the worst internal spy scandal in its 50-year history and by allegations of sexual harassment and cronyism within its espionage directorate.
Carns becomes the latest of several high-profile Clinton nominees to run into serious pre-confirmation problems. Two of them, attorney general candidates Zoe Baird and Kimba M. Wood, were scuttled by disclosures that they had employed illegal immigrants as domestics.
More recently, Clinton's choice of Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr. to be surgeon general has become mired in controversy caused by revelations that he had performed abortions during his career as an obstetrician and gynecologist.